How many hours a day do you practice? How much practice a day should we be doing? Are these even the right questions we should be asking ourselves? Writing on his blog, Bulletproof Musician, Dr. Noa Kageyama discusses how much is optimal and how much can be too much. Even more importantly, he prioritizes and demonstrates how it’s not the duration of practice that is paramount, but the quality of the practice.
Much of Kageyama’s article will likely already be familiar to you, such as the idea of taking one day off a week from practice and really focusing your attention while practicing. Regarding the later, Kageyama offers three reasons why you shouldn’t practice mindlessly. First, it wastes time. Secondly, it makes you less confident. And finally, it’s boring.
The best part of Kageyama’s post is over what he calls “deliberate practice.” When you practice in this manner the required amount of practice time drops, in a large part due to how mentally draining this sort of focus takes to maintain. Kageyama writes:
You will find that deliberate practice is very draining, given the tremendous amount of energy required to keep one’s full attentional resources on the task at hand. Practicing more than one hour at a time is likely to be unproductive and in all honesty, probably not even mentally or emotionally possible. Even the most dedicated individuals will find it difficult to practice more than four hours a day.
Studies have varied the length of daily practice from 1 hour to 8 hours, and the results suggest that there is often little benefit from practicing more than 4 hours per day, and that gains actually begin to decline after the 2-hour mark. The key is to keep tabs on the level of concentration you are able to sustain.
Much of the advice also mirrors practice techniques that I have picked up from teachers and a variety of other places as well. There is also some scientific support for these techniques, so it’s well worth reading through the article and thinking more about how you practice.